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Adam Bronstone

Obama, The Jews, Israel and the Media..and More

by Adam Bronstone, May 30, 2011

Like many Jewish people around the world, and certainly in the United States, I watched with bated breath the press conference/meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama, as well as the former’s address to a joint session of Congress, and then read almost everything I could about what people were saying, thinking, of course this being the 21st century, blogging, emailing and posting!
What surprised me were a few basic points:
I was surprised by the immediate lack of posting on facebook from many of my friends (some of them pro-Bibi and some of them more left-of-center, but all of them have an opinion on Israeli politics), whom I would normally have thought would have said something. I kept refreshing my facebook page, waiting for more than just two lone posts, and none came. Maybe everyone was stunned by the toughness displayed by the Prime Minister in the well of the Congress, or that he made a point of saying (more than a few times) that he agreed with President Obama. Or, it could have been that everyone was just impressed  with how articulate Netanyahu is (although we know this already), and impressed with the thirty ovations he received and the bi-partisan support that came after with Boehner, Reid, Pelosi and, of course, Eric Cantor.
It was also interesting to see the left-of-center media reaction from the New York Times (as the bell-weather of the left-of-center media in the United States), and this came in two ways. The first was an op-ed column entitled ‘What is wrong with the Jews?’, as if every Jewish person in the United States believes the same when it comes to Israel. Maybe someone should explain the many gaps in policy between those who support AIPAC and those who support J-Street? The other was a curious article by a NYT reporter in the Middle East, Ethan Bronner. Bronner claimed that Israelis were not in favor of the Prime Minister’s position, and cited the op-editorial in Ha’aretz to show this perspective. Of course, we know that this paper is, like the NYT, left-of-center so it is not surprising that its position is not in lockstep with Bibi. And, of course, my other response would be ‘so what?’. So, by telling me that an editorial in a major Israeli newspaper is against the Prime Minister’s position, you are really reminding me of the greatness of Israel, and its ability to have a strong, open, vibrant and critical society, where people can openly defy and criticize the government and NOT be put in jail for treason, to be sentenced to death, right? Maybe this is why as of  now there has not been an Arab Israeli Arab Spring, because it is only in Israel that Arab Israeli citizens have full rights, free speech, religious expression, the ability to vote and hold seats in a parliament that actually means something (see: Jordan and Saudi Arabia) in terms of the politics and policy of a country. Maybe this is why Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, in a recent column in Foreign Policy, made the case for Israel being the best ally the United States has in the region, given its commitment to democratic traditions? Maybe, but I am just guessing.
And, finally, it is interesting to see the varying degrees of politicking going on about President Obama, on both sides of the aisle. First, one hears about Jewish financial supporters of the Democratic Party who, like the Pritzker family (they supported Obama right away when he announced his candidacy, and helped quench the rumors of Obama being unfriendly to Israel), are working overtime trying to pacify Jewish Democrats who are starting to believe that this president, no matter what they will tell you about the unqualified political-military support already given to Israel (which is true), does not in his heart (we would say kishkes)  understand, or ‘get’, Israel and its security needs and insecurity.
And on the other side I get an email from someone who probably never supported President Obama that was entitled ‘the first pro-Palestinian president’. This email raises concerns that the president, raised in a Muslim country, might have developed a positive position towards the Arab/Muslim world that has colored his approach to foreign policy, with the President’s Cairo speech being only the beginning (making a settlement freeze a condition of having negotiations and now explicitly mentioning the 1967 borders as the starting point) of the downside of the President’s anti-Israel foreign policy position.
And then, as a Canadian Jew living in the United States, I read the Globe and Mail and read how Stephen Harper has, once again, come out with a pro-Israel position, repudiating the US position. And how, traditionally, Canadian Jews support the Liberal Party and have been faced with a government that they do not naturally support because of domestic issues, but cannot help but applaud its strong and continued position on Israel.
Iit is true that the military relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. It is also true there the US is openly opposed to the Palestinian attempt to seek statehood at the United Nations, and vetoed a Security Council resolution with respect to settlements. But none of this placates the average pro-Israel American Jew. What they see is a President who says ‘no’ to the Palestinians, but gives off many signals to the leadership of the PA that it is okay to push and push and push on Israel, because he, the President, agrees with their negotiating positions; negotiating positions that will make it more difficult for Israel to be able to make a deal, for it will look like a deal is being done with a ‘gun’ to  its collective head.
I do not know what American Jews will do in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Some of all of this depends on whom the Republicans select as their presidential and vice-presidential nominees, and if they are pro-Israel enough, and domestically moderate enough, to allow Jewish voters to cross the political aisle and vote Republican (while holding their noses). Some of this depends on what takes place before and in September at the United Nations, and how openly vocal the President will be towards the PA and its attempt to gain statehood through a unilateral vote. And all of this depends on Jewish voters, who have to decide if they will continue to, regardless of all of the above, give up their vote and vote Democratic as a knee-jerk traditional response, or if American Jews will put their vote into play, so to speak, and up for grabs.
Prior to the 2004 election, I was at a seminar where the panelists were speaking about why Jews should vote Democrat, and why they should vote Republican. Before the person speaking on behalf of the latter spoke, two people at my table heckled and laughed. They knew, before the case was even laid out, which party they were going to vote for. No discussion was needed, or wanted. If Jews continue to give up their vote and vote without even consideration (one way or the other) then, regardless of who is in the White House and that person’s policies, they have no one else to blame, but themselves. For such a mature, established,  and educated community, sometimes, the American Jewish community is pretty dumb. But then again, you did not hear that from me (I do have to live here, you know!).

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